The Hamline Pipers men’s hockey team won two of 28 games last season. Last Saturday, Hamline upset St. Thomas, the regular-season champion, in the semifinals of the MIAC playoffs.
I took note of this, talked to Hamline’s first-year coach, Cory Laylin, and wrote a column for Saturday’s print edition.
I’ve also taken note of the changes that Jason Verdugo has tried to make to upgrade the Pipers’ athletic program since becoming the athletic director on May 1, 2012.
Hamline has 19 sports, and is adding a 20th with women’s lacrosse for the spring of 2016. There are 18 head coaches, with swimming and diving (Ryan Hawke) and tennis (Jon Henning) having a coach who leads both the women’s and men’s program.
Paul Schmaedeke is the successful director and coach of the cross country and track and field programs for men and women, with Adam Frye as the co-head coach in cross country and Shawn Johnson-Hipp as the head coach of women’s track.
Frye is one of nine head coaches now on the staff hired by Verdugo in his three years as AD. The others are Hawke, Laylin, Chad Rogosheske (football), Jim Hayes (men’s basketball), Becky Egan (volleyball), Alex Morawiecki (men’s soccer), Karen Heggernes (lacrosse) and Jim Weyandt (baseball).
The latter is intriguing because Verdugo was the Hamline baseball coach, stepped down after the 2012 season, and promoted Weyandt from his staff.
Hamline has had growth and now has more than 2,200 undergraduates. Athletics have helped with that. Verdugo said there were 300 athletes when he started as the Pipers’ baseball coach in 2001 and now there are 500.
The school has a mixture of modern athletic facilities, with the Klas Center and Walker Fieldhouse, and the historic, with Hutton Arena.
The arena was dedicated as Norton Fieldhouse when it opened in 1937. It was renamed in 1986 in honor of Joe Hutton, the coach when Hamline was a national basketball powerhouse in the 1940s and 1950s.
Most of the athletic offices have moved to Walker Fieldhouse, but you can still find employees (such as Dave Wright, the sports information director) up narrow stairways and in crannies of the old arena.
Everything isn’t going to be spit-shined for Hamline athletes, not like the MIAC bullies a couple of miles away at St. Thomas. This is particularly true in hockey, where the home ice for Hamline is located in the no-frills Oscar Johnson Arena, with a construction trailer as a locker room.
Meantime, the Tommies continue to enjoy phenomenal athletic success, surrounded by the fantastic Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex, next to the fantastic Anderson Student Center.
All they really need over there now is a press box to replace the rat hole at the top of O’Shaughnessy Stadium -- a press box that I contend was being used when my uncle, Frank O’Rourke, was a football standout for the Tommies 80-some years ago.
Now, finally, Hamline might have something going for it in facilities that will make the Tommies eat their hearts out. The Pipers are moving their baseball operation to CHS Field, the new home of the Saints in St. Paul’s Lowertown.
Just to rub it in (I hope), the first game for Hamline – and for the ballpark – has been scheduled for April 4 … vs. St. Thomas.
“That’s very tentative, based on the weather,’’ Verdugo said. “Everyone involved is going to be cautious with the field this first spring, including us.’’
Verdugo pitched for the Saints in 2000 and made a comeback when they were short of pitchers in 2004. Meantime, he was Hamline’s baseball coach and the Saints’ pitching coach in the summer.
Midway Stadium was home to both the Saints and Hamline, what with the campus being catty-corner across Snelling Ave. Bob Klapperich, the manager of Midway, did all he could to help the Pipers, Verdugo said, but there was no locker room or indoor batting cages to be had.
There are three clubhouses at CHS Field: One for the Saints, one for their American Association visitors, and one for Hamline.
There will be indoor cages and a weight room for Hamline’s use. This will be the practice field for the Pipers as well as the home field for games.
How did this come about?
“When the Saints were making plans for a stadium, in the hope of some day getting one, they approached the University of Minnesota about sharing a ballpark,’’ Verdugo said. “When those talks fizzled, I was asked … maybe I said something … about Hamline possibly having some interest.
“Once the ballpark was approved, we talked seriously, and we made it known for Hamline to be involved, it had to be a joint venture; we needed a physical space and presence at the ballpark.’’
Verdugo said that Hamline’s total investment is $2 million, financed over 25 years. It is a deal with both the Saints and the City of St. Paul.
It would be a surprise if the Pipers, already competitive in MIAC baseball, don’t become a force in the sport, with this home field to show off to aspiring ballplayers from this region.
It would not be a first if even the Tommies found themselves chasing the Pipers. John Kundla can tell you what hard work it was competing with Hamline when he was a young basketball coach at St. Thomas, and Hutton was building his legend.
Of course, John will be 99 this summer, which is the right age group for recalling Hamline as the pursued, rather than the pursuer.